Some people never stop talking, and that was, I am certain, without any doubt, the main
problem with Bubba. I am certain of it. Every morning ‘round nine a.m. he came into Mrs.
Holtin’s Supermarket and sat down in the rocking chair next to all the bug sprays and nail polish
remover. He came in, sat down, and for the whole day, he just sat and sat with a gallon jug of
water that he brought with him from home. The jug had a dirty ring around it that you could tell
was on the inside, and he sat there swigging at that water and talking until six p.m., which often
got pushed up to five p.m. even though on the door it says six, cause Mrs. Holtin didn’t want to
spend that extra hour with Bubba.
Mrs. Holtin is alone now. Her husband had his heart attack when they went out west to
the Grand Canyon. He saw it, said, “Mother fucker,” muttered it—croaked it, sort of—and
grabbed his chest as if he suddenly realized his wallet was missing. That’s what I hear from Mrs.
Holtin’s boy, Cecil. He’s told everyone that story about his father eleven or fifteen times or more
probably—delights in telling it the drunker he gets: snatching at his own chest, making the
croaking sound over and over cause the drunker he gets, the more he can’t remember what he’s
just said. One night he said my name fifty times—I counted them—fifty times at the beginning
of some question: “Judy?” “Judy?” “Judy?”
“What damn it?” I finally snapped back cause there is nothing worse than a man stuck on
his own tongue, unsure of what to do next. Well, that’s Cecil. He’s only sober during the
hangover hours; the time, his mamma, Mrs. Holtin, is at work from eight until six, used to be
five on the account of Bubba. She didn’t like to be in the store with Bubba, like I said, any longer
than she had to. Nobody did cause of all his talking: talk, talk, talk. Talk to anybody about
He’d go off on the importance of nice dress shoes on Sunday, why Vidalia onions were
no better than regular onions, and oceans that he had never seen. Then he’d tell you about the
countries at the end of those oceans, and pretty soon he’d start rambling on about the people in
town. He had a nickname for all of us, and if it wasn’t a bad one, he’d call you that name to your
Some of the bad ones were like what he called Mrs. Holtin—“Mrs. Big Hair”—on
account of her hair being so big. Nice ones were like what he called me—“Young Lady”—cause
I’m “young,” he said and “a lady.”
The last time I saw him was a week ago. That’s when he started talking to me about how
many blues there were: how each one was kinda lighter or darker than the one you saw before.
“Look at the sky,” he said, pointing outside the merchandise window.
“Now look at your paints,” he pointed down. He meant to say “pants,” but his face had
clamped down on his mouth—his jaws like two big gills on his catfish face closing up with the
weight of his wrinkles.
“Now you go look at anything in this store that’s got blue on it,” he said, “and you’ll see
what I talk about,” his words muttering up more, and he rubbed the bristles on his chin, satisfied
that he had told me the most profound thing, a secret to the universe no one else had caught on
to, had ever understood.
Shades, I wanted to tell him. Hues. Let him know that there was a name for all of this and
that he, alone, hadn’t discovered it. He wasn’t the only one with eyes. But I didn’t say anything. I
had known Bubba too long not to let him have his way.
So I looked carefully—slowly I turned my head from aisle to aisle.
“I see what you mean,” I said, and we both nodded to each other.
And whenever Bubba got talking fast—muttering and spitting like tires come off a
truck—his language sounded more archaic than Chaucer’s. Mr. Ribbons, who works at the
community college in Snead thirty-five miles away, said so.
Bubba said he knew Chaucer. Met him at Billy’s Liquor once and they got drunk
together. Whenever Mr. Ribbons came in, Bubba would ask him, “How’s my friend Chaucer
doing?” Mr. Ribbons would stand there, something to buy held quietly in his hands, and he’d
give Bubba an obliging smile. Mr. Ribbons is more than just educated. He always wears long
sleeve, starch-collared shirts though the weather hovers around one hundred two-thirds of the
year. He has a studying look. He comes into Mrs. Holtin’s and studies things: Dixie water cups,
the ingredients in sugar, the varieties of ice cream for his wife who’s expecting. And Mr.
Ribbons, like all of us, took time out from Mrs. Holtin’s selections to study Bubba. “More
archaic than Chaucer—” who is, by the way, a great English writer. He never hung out at Billy’s,
I am certain. I remember something about a Wife taking a bath and Chaucer when I was in
school. But I’ve been out for two years.
I’m the head cashier over at the Mustang-Stop on weekends—that’s the only gas station,
part-time convenience store in town. It’s right next to Mrs. Holtin’s, and during the week, I hang
out with Missie—she’s the cashier during the week. I help her pump gas, but she does have a
noticeable flaw. She’s a few years younger than me, and you know how high school students are,
even if she has dropped out. So I take about as much of that giggling and boy-crazy talk as I can,
then I go over to see how Cecil’s hangover is doing.
That day when Bubba was talking about blues, that last day a week ago, I left the store
with some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cause nothing beats raw cookie dough and
Bubba was saying you couldn’t, even if you wanted, make two of the same color blue.
“That’s a truth, Young Lady. A fact.”
Like I said, my nickname was “Young Lady” and whenever he added that to his talking, I
straightened up my shoulders like my mamma tells me I should be doing all the time cause here I
was, this “Young Lady,” with all this respect being given me and I wanted to look the part.
“A fact.” He smacked his lips like they were dry from all his talking, and he swigged out
another swallow; the water hadn’t reached the brown ring yet.
Usually Bubba moved onto some other topic, but he had said “fact” about three other
times during his “blue” talk.
I could tell he was going to rattle on, so I slipped out the front door, licking a drizzle of
ice cream from the side of my half pint, and I was walking and licking to the point that I didn’t
see it, almost ran into it: Cecil’s truck.
“Get in,” he said, spat something at his floorboard.
“I ain’t talking with you,” I let him know up front and turned the other way.
“Get in,” he said it louder and rammed one of the gears into its socket, easing the clutch
back to make a horrible grinding noise.
“I’m still hurting,” I said.
“So,” he said, refusing to look at where I pulled up my shirt. There was a purplish-black
chunk like a dent in a truck above my bellybutton.
“I ain’t talking with you.”
“Come on, Judy,” he spat again at the floorboard, then pulled at his hair as if his head
His hangover must be a bad one, and I decided I was glad about it, too. His face was
getting real sweaty. He was getting antsy. It was hot that day, and we both stuck to where we
were while the truck idled in the heat.
I looked up at the sky. It was blue. I wondered if I took a picture of today’s sky and
tomorrow’s sky and showed them to Bubba would he believe, “There, see Bubba, see,” there was
the same color twice. Or would he be right? Would tomorrow’s sky be different than today’s?
“Judy . . .”
That was all the apology I was going to get: Cecil saying my name half way softly.
The mosquitoes were under the trees “cooling it,” as Bubba would say—they wouldn’t
come and bite me, it was so hot.
I waited a little longer.
Then I got in.
That was around 2:30.
Immediately, I noticed a beer in Cecil’s hand.
“Feeling better, I see,” I said, dipping into my ice cream—it was already liquidy all the
way around the part where it touched the carton.
“All right,” he said; he was watching the side of the road, waving to whoever came
whizzing by on the other lane. I don’t think he really looked at them—Cecil was more interested
in wheel rims and paint jobs than people, but waving was habit.
I dug deeper into my ice cream. The cookie dough parts were cut into little round pieces
like they came from a tube, like the Pillsbury kind in the milk section. His truck, even though it’s
an old one, runs good, has just enough putter in it to make your stomach settle. And the more my
stomach relaxed, the more ice cream I stuffed in, and the more comfortable I began to feel.
Cecil didn’t say anything when he parked the truck, keeping that stuff in his mouth,
spitting a path to the front door of his mamma’s house. I followed him on in, lay my empty half-
pint on the steps before I did, licked my sticky fingers.
He didn’t say anything as he walked back to his room, past the kitchen, the dining room
where Mrs. Holtin has a picture of the Grand Canyon framed. The caption underneath says: The
World’s Most Breathtaking View. Bubba said he had been there, though everyone knew he had
never stepped a foot outside of Remlap, Alabama.
“Yes, yes, Young Lady, it is beautiful. ‘It’s just an empty hole in the ground—’ had
several people tell me that when I was there, but I didn’t bother with them, even answering them.
Cause it’s not the . . . the . . . hole part, it’s the way it makes your lungs feel like they left you,
makes you feel small, and you ah . . . ah appreciate—yep, appreciate this world a little more. I
think so,” smacking his lips, taking another swig from the jug.
Bubba also claimed he had been to London and Paris and every beautiful city in this
world, and he told you about each one—the buildings and streets—and you could see it, see the
names of cafes in other languages and landmarks in your mind, would swear he had been there.
This was the truth. But he hadn’t been anywhere.
I turned my eyes from the picture of the Grand Canyon, thought about Cecil’s dad, the
words he said when he saw that big hole. Then I walked on to Cecil’s room, following the smell
of his beer, the juice that was in his mouth.
He was taking off his shirt, hanging it on the antlers of the buck he killed two years ago. I
remember cause we first started seeing each other then and he was so happy about killing that
deer. He’s killed a ton more since but hasn’t mounted them or anything, hasn’t even kept the
“I ain’t kissing you unless you take that shit out of your mouth,” I said. I was already
unbuttoning my shirt.
“Well, I don’t want to be kissing,” he grinned, spat a little into a cup near his bed.
“Then I don’t want to be doing,” my hands worked in reverse, putting the buttons back
through the holes.
He stopped, looked at me, looked at me like he did those people he was waving at on
highway 29, and I kept waiting, thinking he was going to spit, going to spit it out. My hands
were over my breasts on the first button. But he waited, waited, stared at me, made me feel like I
wasn’t really anything, just dust off a road or a wind that you walk through, something that made
the summer unnoticeable.
“Come on, Cecil,” I finally said, squeezed my arms under my breasts so he could see
them better, their pouting—all that chocolate in the cookie dough was making me horny.
He spat out the last of the juice, smiled and came over to me, his hands grabbing for my
ass first, then working their way to where the bruise was, touching it lightly. But inside there was
a kick and a sharp twist that hurt.
Cecil’s mom might’ve been home by five, so I left—she knew I was seeing Cecil, but she
didn’t know how much I was seeing, and I didn’t want her to be upset like the time when her
husband, Mr. Holtin, died. When she came back from the Canyon—it was the only time I’ve
seen her hair down, and her hair isn’t pretty down. So I always keep my eye on the clock—Cecil
He was asleep as usual, stretched out and a pillow on his head. He’d been that way not
long after he shot up all inside me, uttering something about “I was the best he had ever had” and
“he loved me for it.” Then he fell asleep. His mamma, I knew, would find him like that—rolled
out on his bed naked but covered—I did the covering to save her the embarrassment of having to
see how fat he was getting. She always is saying to me when I’m in the store and to other people
when they come in that Cecil is the weekend carrier for the Post Office and will be full time as
soon as Bud Jones quits who is nearly seventy and should retire soon.
“That Man ain’t ever going to quit,” Bubba quickly set the record straight whenever Mrs.
Holtin started up with that talk like she does.
“That Bud Jones—he’s hard worker—he’s being doing that route since car was invented,
since we had a post office. And that boy of yours,” Bubba opened up his catfish mouth wide as it
could go, “he is lazy.” Bubba said that. I couldn’t believe he said that but he did, and it’s the
truth, but, boy, it made Mrs. Holtin mad—so mad she punched the cash register two, three, four
times, the bells ringing and making the roach cans shake. But that was all she showed of
madness to Bubba cause she wanted to be polite, and, therefore, she tried to ignore him.
“Likes to drink all the time—that’s all that boy of yours ever does. Lazy, lazy, lazy,”
Bubba twisted sideways in his seat. “Puts the wrong mail in the wrong mailboxes anyway. That’s
what everybody says—”
“Shut up, Bubba,” she yelled, her hair standing even taller, the blood rushing to it.
And I guess I should have said that to Bubba, too; I should have defended Cecil, but it
was the truth what Bubba said. And he winked at me then cause he got her riled up, got her mad,
he got her good. I tried not to smile, but I knew I did—the two of us nodding our heads, certain
that the truth had been spoken.
Several times, Mrs. Holtin threatened to kick Bubba out after he said what he said about
her son. But Bubba just smacked his lips, swigged his water and didn’t move, stared at all those
cans of bug spray like they were TV pictures he was counting.
When Cecil comes in the store, Mrs. Holtin always smiles; her whole body does a swish
from her toes up, and she’s extra polite to the people in the store.
“That colorful old man,” she’d even say about Bubba and laugh that light flighty laugh of
hers—“Like Coolwhip coming out of a little chick’s mouth,” Bubba called it—Mrs. Holtin
hoping Bubba wouldn’t start talking about her boy.
One day Cecil slapped Bubba on the back, friendly, while reaching for a can of Raid.
“Lazy—lazy,” Bubba sputtered into his jug, sucking up a big gulp, coughing some more.
Cecil stood there for a minute. Didn’t say a word, just staring down at the back of Bubba
who was mumbling the effects of a Black Flag can: “Kills in seconds, leaves a trail for months.
Kills roaches, ants, flying bugs. Sprays for twelve feet . . . .” Then Bubba started quoting the
“Let me show you some new sunglasses we got in, honey,” Mrs. Holtin piped up and
Cecil turned away, spraying the can in the air as he walked to see how far it would shoot.
“Honey!” Mrs. Holtin said urgently, dipping below her cash register cause when Cecil
sprayed, he almost got her hair.
The next time Cecil came in, Mrs. Holtin slipped Bubba three pieces of hard candy to
keep him quiet. Bubba didn’t talk about her boy.
So I cover Cecil up when I leave and take all the empty beer cans with me, crush them up
along with my empty half-pint and throw them in the green dumpster on my way back to town.
That day—one week ago it was—it was 4:45 when I left. I was cutting it close and at first
I was jogging down the highway, but it didn’t take me long to feel silly about that, so I slowed
down—the Remlap city limits is only a mile from Mrs. Holtin’s house, and besides she never
takes this road home.
It was hot, typical July weather, and I was walking along the highway—the one Mrs.
Holtin doesn’t take—when a car slowed down and pulled off the road in front of me. It was Mr.
He smiled, pointed to the passenger side door, so I hurried in.
“Got any Chaucer with you?” I asked him first thing. Since we were alone, I wanted him
to know: I’m not afraid of knowledge.
“All my books—” he looked over his shoulder, giving the back seat a studying look.
“They must be in the trunk,” he said awkwardly, apologizing.
He is young. Ten years older than me, I believe, but still so young to be a teacher. His
hair is straight except for a lick that curves around the back of his head. He doesn’t wear glasses.
He does wear long sleeve shirts. The one he had on—it was what my mother calls an ocean blue.
I wonder what blue Bubba would say. Mr. Ribbons is long sleeves, straight hair, no glasses and a
wedding band, and “Oh,” that was all I said—I didn’t know what else to make up.
His face continued with its serious look: he was studying the road, looking for something
in it, something no normal person would see.
I dreamed I had sex with him one night. I was drunk; Cecil was hardly able to stand but
he wanted it, said he had to have it. We were in front of his mamma’s store in his truck, so I
undid my pants, kicked them off of one ankle.
“Come and get it,” I teased him, but for some reason, I kept calling him Timothy, which
is Mr. Ribbons first name—I know cause I saw it on one of his checks, but I would never call
him that, and I don’t think I said Timothy out loud cause Cecil would have yelled, would have
wanted to punch me if I had.
And whenever I looked up at Cecil, I saw Mr. Ribbons. He had that serious look. Bubba
said he’s too young to be so serious, but when I was having sex with him that serious look had
me in a trance, was turning me on, and under his long sleeved shirt was hair all over his chest
and arms—Cecil has just a few black hairs around each of his pudgy nipples—and while
Timothy was making love to me he quoted some Chaucer. He talked about months and rain and
there were rhymes—it was real romantic. I remember thinking, “This is what romance is: your
lover using words, saying them only to you, and lots of them, saying them seriously, with a hairy
chest—‘like all the people in London have cause it’s cold there,’ Bubba told me—while doing
“Is your wife out of town?” I asked Mr. Ribbons. I was studying him hard, looking for
signs of that chest hair—it was thick like a pile carpet rug in my dream, and I am certain those
words just slipped out of my mouth.
“No.” I could tell he was surprised by my question. His fingers grabbed at the wheel a
“Oh,” I quickly said, “I heard at the store she was out of town. I was wondering if she
was visiting her mamma.” I said that even quicker. I could feel my face bulbing red, and so I
turned to watch whatever was out the window.
“No, no,” he laughed, almost choking, “I don’t know why you heard that.” He turned
back to the road. I turned back to study him.
“I don’t know who said that,” he went on. “She’s at home right now. The baby’s due
soon, you know?” and his shoulders eased, his fingers relaxed.
I wanted him. Could see the words printed on his skin under those blue sleeves, brown,
brown hair. The Wife taking a bath—something romantic. I wanted to touch that.
Mr. Ribbons pulled into the Mustang-Stop and let me out. His car zoomed on across the
intersection and soon he was gone.
I stood there watching.
Mamma would have dinner ready soon, I knew. Usually we ate some frozen packaged
something that helped both of us watch our weight though she needed to watch hers more than I
needed to watch mine.
She watches TV all day but turns it off when I come in so we can spend “quality time”
together. Oprah, Montel and several others said this was important.
Mr. Ribbons wasn’t coming back, as I had hoped, for something, anything, ice cream,
maybe, that he needed, so I left the Mustang-Stop and walked home. Mamma shut the TV off,
and the first words out of her mouth were, “Our quality time, Judy,” and then how was your day
and how are you doing.
“Mamma,” I told her, “you’ve been watching too much TV. I’m too old for quality time.”
How many times do I have to have this conversation with my insane mother?
“Shhh,” she put her finger to my lip, putting the “shhh,” like a candle out, her finger that
smelled of cigarettes though she had told me, promised, promised on the Bible she had quit.
“We need to get along. I’m not going to be here forever, and a rock could land on our
house at any minute, kill us both,” she said, her smile unflinching.
I rolled my eyes.
Her mother died when she was ten—the hospital gave her the wrong blood when
Mamma’s brother was born.
“Sweet Jeremy,” Mamma spilled out her brother’s name nicely, suddenly, as if she could
read my mind, and then I saw the other taking over her face—the memory of her mother, the
blood going in and hurting her, hurting her until Mamma had to cry.
“You need a grip.” I was serious. “Any rock that could fall on us would have to come
from Rock City two and a half hours away. Two and a half.” Everyone here lives on hills they
like to call mountains. But they’re just hills and nowhere dangerous. I didn’t fall into the trap of
mentioning her brother.
Immediately, mamma stopped crying. She has cried so much about her own mother’s
death that the crying can last for hours or as brief as a second or two.
“Dinner?” her smile returned even more happier, more determined with this “quality
My mother has real pretty teeth, disarming teeth.
I took the plate she offered and some sugar tea. I like mine with lemon.
I told my mamma I had a most lovely day at work, though I didn’t work. And she told me
what Montel and Oprah had to say and who were their guests. Oprah was in the kitchen with
somebody who had lost more weight than Oprah, and Montel had teenage girls who liked to have
sex with older men.
“Too many older men,” my mother nodded unapprovingly.
I ate my food.
After dinner I took a shower, since I could still smell Cecil—he’s been smelling worse
now that he’s getting fat, and I scrubbed myself harder. The steam coming off the water felt like
fingers, the tips of fingers, soft ones—the ones Mr. Ribbons had—Timothy, small soft. “I won’t
tell anyone,” I whispered, letting them touch me until the water gave out, was cold. Then I put on
some of my mamma’s make-up and watched TV with her until Cecil showed.
Well, it didn’t take long for Cecil and me to get into a fight.
“You fucking Bitch!” he yelled and shoved his box of tapes into my face.
I clawed back at him, grabbing for his neck. If I could cut deep enough, maybe he would
bleed to death and I would be through with him.
“Through with your shit,” I said, digging my nails in.
“Goddamn it!” he shouted and stopped the truck.
He started kicking me—“Get out. Get out bitch—” kicking me, kicking.
I was able to open the door, and I wanted to scream, wanted to wake up all the people in
Remlap so they could see what this bastard was doing to me cause I told him his friend Tommy
Dix would be cute for Missie. I didn’t say “cute” to make him jealous.
Tommy Dix is cute; it’s the truth. And I didn’t say he was cute to anyone other than
Cecil. But Cecil grabbed me by the hair at the party and yanked me into his truck.
Now he was kicking me out—two shots to the chest so I could barely breathe, much less
He got me in the head again with his boot and I tumbled from the opening door, still
I felt like a dying roach, like I had poison in my stomach. My lungs crunched up, and his
door swung open. He stormed onto the pavement. I rolled, tried to roll away. I heard his boots
coming closer, heard him walking toward me and I tried to roll, Christ please help me get away.
“Bitch,” I could hear him spitting out the word as his heels turned, and I heard one door
slam, heard him walking, again, but this time the boots were moving away, and I rolled the other
direction like an undertow, reaching out for his boots, the echo of them, begging them not to
leave, begging them to stay and hold me.
The other door slammed; the big tires squealed.
The smoke smelled of burning hair and then everything was quiet.
Someone was poking at me.
“Young Lady. Young Lady.” My back tried to straighten up.
It was a reflex—I had to look proud for the police.
“Young Lady, we need to get an ambulance.”
I fluttered my eyes open, but the only lights were the steady overheads of Remlap. No
dancing blue and red as I had imagined. I moved to one side. Damn my head hurt.
“You need an ambulance. I know you do.”
“Where is it?” I asked, and my eyes fluttered, came fully open. Standing in front of me
was Bubba. His gallon jug in one hand—it was empty, the brown ring still there—and his other
hand tugging at my shirt.
“You’re all bruised up, Young Lady,” he said. His catfish face looked very sad, very
serious. His eyes were more wide open than I had ever seen them, and though he looked even
more like a catfish than he ever had, I couldn’t think about that cause he was so solemn.
“I found you,” he said. “I was walking. Late as is—I’m not usually over here this late. I
don’t know how, but I found you. I just did, Young Lady, and you need an ambulance, someone
to take you.”
“Bubba,” I said, “I’m okay.” I assured him and wanted to stand up to prove it, but I
couldn’t move one of my legs.
“Stupid leg,” I said, but I didn’t want him to worry, so I tried to wink, but the pain dug
into me and soured my face. Finally, I managed to get to my elbows, so he could see I wasn’t all
“You need an ambulance,” he told me.
“Go on home,” I told him and pushed on him, falling flat to the ground as I did, my
moment of sitting up finished with.
“Young Lady. I can’t leave you.”
“Get the hell out of here!” I shouted. I said that to him—said it to this man I liked to hang
around and hear talk. And before I could say I was sorry or anything, the other sound was
coming. A sound that had started when I shouted: a roar shaking my head; then a screech
bringing the burning smell back.
A door swung open; a pair of boots marched over; and I tried to roll towards Bubba, but
my leg wouldn’t.
The boots stopped. They were at my side, digging into me a little. Then two big hands
came down like forklifts ready to lift me up.
“Leave her alone,” a voice said. It was Bubba’s.
I looked up to see him pushing at Cecil’s hands, arms, swatting him with the gallon jug.
“Leave her alone, Boy. She’s hurt. You’ve—you hurt her enough.”
Cecil didn’t look worried—he didn’t have any look. He spat on the ground and, not even
his bulging belly moved much, was still.
Then his hands reached down, cupped under me, and started lifting.
“You’re a Little Piece of Shit, boy,” I could hear Bubba, but he was standing back now,
wasn’t hitting Cecil.
“Hurting that girl. Someone should call the police.” The gallon jug came flying again like
a wild bird, popping off on Cecil’s big head.
Cecil lowered me into the passenger seat. I could smell the beer and juice in his mouth,
and I could feel his heart—it was pounding hard; he was sweating. And the pounding made me
feel sick, like I was on a wild road, a roller coaster, and his heart was going to burst, blow up in
my face and kill me.
“You’re a woman beater, shit boy. Someone’s going call the police,” Bubba was shouting
stronger now as the truck door slammed shut against my body. Cecil turned around and started
walking towards Bubba.
As Cecil moved out a little, I could see the sign to his mamma’s store. It read: Mrs.
Holtin’s Supermarket—the letters are blue, old fashioned like a framed cross-stitching you see in
everyone’s home. They kind of smile down on the pavement—but it’s a trick, something in the
way they are written and in the light that makes them look happy.
When I looked down from the sign, I could only see Bubba’s face and part of his legs. He
was on the ground. I couldn’t tell if it was sweat or blood hitting on the pavement where he was,
but he kept talking:
“You lazy-bastard shit-boy. Lazy boy. Lady beater. I’m going to call the police—” and
the more Cecil kicked Bubba, the louder Bubba got— “Lazy, piece of shit! Told everyone I
could what a piece of shit you were.”
I waited for all the lights in Remlap to come on at anytime, but they didn’t. And Cecil
kept kicking him, kicking him all the way to the front of his mamma’s store.
And the lights didn’t come on.
And he kicked and kicked.
And I didn’t move. I did not move.
“Lazy,” Bubba said, but he could barely say it now. He was coughing between his words
until the coughing was all I could hear.
Then the boots came toward me, wet in the lights. The truck door creaked open, slammed
shut, and we squealed off.
I looked back for Bubba. He was crunched up, still saying something—he was next to the
Coke machine. It was dark where he was, but I could see his lips moving to the overhead lights
unable to reach him.
For the rest of that night all I thought of was Bubba.
I wanted to call somebody, but Cecil took me to the back of one of his mamma’s farms
and parked the truck. We stayed there all night. All night he kept fucking me. Pumping in and
out of me stronger than he ever had before. It seemed he would never stop.
And I kept thinking about Bubba, that I didn’t say anything, didn’t scream when he was
being kicked—I didn’t get out to help him. Young Lady that he tried to help.
My leg still hurt, and as the alcohol left me, I tried to think of other things: of Timothy
softly touching me, the romantic words printed on his chest. But the picture of Bubba lying there,
his body pulled up like the guts in him were broken—it was too strong.
I even tried to think of the Grand Canyon, of what Bubba said about the lungs, the breath
being taken from them and lifted, of how it was more than just a big hole. But whenever I saw
this sight—imagining I was there under the bluest sky—right in that hole, right in the center of it
would be Bubba’s body, dark like a catfish taken a long time from the water, still and quiet.
Sometimes I would see Cecil’s boots, too, kicking him, a blur of just kick and kick; then
he would be kicking me and my bruises would pull, hurt, gash, and the gashes would open, groan
like ghosts, like Mr. Holtin had done, grabbing his chest at the sight. One time when Cecil was
kicking, I could see his mamma at the cash register punching some numbers in, looking up every
so often, then turning away, punching more numbers in. He left me, went over and started
kicking her, pulling her hair out of her head, bobby pin by bobby pin. She didn’t scream either.
By morning, Cecil had worn down, fallen asleep. I watched over him, touched my new
bruises with the sweat from his growing stomach and arms, kept touching his hair over and over,
kept thinking of Bubba, no longer the picture of him, but of what he had said about the sky, his
buddy Chaucer, how he knew everyone, had been everywhere, knew the truth in it all. When I
stopped thinking of those things it was lunch. It was hot, and I had the windows down, waving
the mosquitoes off of Cecil still asleep. Whenever a mosquito did land, I would lightly slap him
into Cecil’s sweaty skin. Sometimes there would be a little blood smushed up with the wings and
There was blood on Cecil’s boots, but I didn’t look back. The blood the mosquitoes drew
out wasn’t much. And as I waved my hands and slapped Cecil, the smell of blood and sweat in
the heat became so strong, the truth of it was, I began to cry for him.
James Braziel lives on a ridge that is part of the Cumberland Plateau in Alabama. Together, he and his wife, poet Tina Mozelle Braziel, are building a glass cabin by hand while living in it. His novels Birmingham, 35 Miles and Snakeskin Road look at a future dust bowl where the South is ravaged by an environmental disaster. His work has appeared in The New York Times and other places. He has received fellowships from the Georgia Council for the Arts and the Alabama State Council on the Arts.
Read more James Braziel in TLR: Granary – forthcoming.
“Wanting a Lover Man” was originally published in the Berkeley Fiction Review (Issue 18).